It's the thing you don't see and can't do without but, when the lights at home are flickering and then go out you know that somewhere close by, a car has hit a pole.
There's been a flurry of comment recently about the spike in power pole crashes in Northland, so much so that the police, Northland Transportation Alliance, Northpower and Top Energy have got together to see what can be done about it.
Since 2016 there have been 381 reported power pole and related hazard crashes in Northland. Around 45 per cent are drivers aged between 15 and 29, and 40 per cent of the impacts involves fatalities or serious injuries. On average each power pole crash affects around 500 customers and costs between $15,000 and $30,000 to repair.
Most of the commentary about power pole crashes has been about the driver. Whether it is speed, alcohol, fatigue, or other distractions, it's the driver's fault and the power company endeavours to extract the repair cost through the driver's insurance.
Let's face it though, there are very few drivers who deliberately run into a power pole. The pole is there in the roading environment and the pole versus car encounter is just no contest.
In 2016 Christchurch company Holmes Solutions ran a public demonstration in front of a couple of hundred industry observers indicating the outcome of an impact between a 2002 Opal Vectra travelling at 80km/h, and an 11 metre long Australian Hardwood pole which was 450mm thick with power lines connected.
The pole had a kind of whiplash effect at the top, the lines came down and the pole was split along its mid section. There was very little movement at the base and the pole remained standing.
The car was a write off. The old car had very little crumple zone with the 80km/h to zero speed kinetic energy being transferred to the driver and passenger compartments. There were no occupants but it was obvious that anyone inside the car would be in trouble and the downed power lines would be a major risk for anyone else around.
In looking at the power pole-crash issue, we need to look beyond the crash site, see this as a roading environment and recognise that this is a road controlling authority and lines company issue and not just a driving one.
Our line companies have a brilliant track record for workplace safety. Northpower is highly regarded and has won several industry awards for safe working practices. It is obvious from watching roadside and tree maintenance that nothing is left to chance.
Yet when the crews leave, the poles remain as a line of 8 metre high concrete hazards within the roading environment, very often on the road side of the footpath. These hazards have no mitigation measures around them nor warning reflectors or lights indicating that they are there.
In a normal health and safety conscious workplace, hazards need to be identified, eliminated or mitigated so that severity of impact by anyone is significantly reduced and there are a multitude of existing solutions available here.
Firstly - remove the hazard completely by installing power lines underground as happens with new roads or subdivisions. With cost effective ground drilling technology this is an increasing possibility.
Secondly - reducing the probability of impact by reducing speed limits, increased education and enforcement, improving hazard warnings both in vehicle or on the roadside, and upgrading the vehicle fleet.
Finally - reducing the impact severity by installing impact cushions around vulnerable poles or isolating the hazards with roadside safety barriers.
So this is not just a driver issue. These concrete hazards are inside our roading environment. Ordinary drivers make mistakes, the poles are going to get hit and we need to mitigate the effects of that accident.
If we own the "Road to Zero" approach that no death or serious injury on our roads is acceptable, then "we' need to fix it. An industry wide approach to eliminating or mitigating the effects of these hazards is not just about targeting the driver.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.